Work sent me to Los Angeles for 3 weeks in February and one of my immediate thoughts was could I fit in any audax rides. Consulting the ACP calendar revealed local events organised by Pacific Coast Randonneurs, with the San Luis Obispo 300km scheduled for when I was there, so I bought the CTC bike bag to allow me to ride to the airport then pack my bike for flight, and also a fixed rear light and reflective belt to comply with RUSA rules.
The day before the event, immediately after dropping my wife off at the airport for her conveniently scheduled earlier flight home, I drove the 200 miles north to San Luis Obispo, arriving at the local youth hostel just as it shut for the night. A few hours sleep before I was up at 4:30 and off to the organiser Vickie’s house for breakfast* in time for the start at 6am. I collected my brevet, updated route sheet card and elastic bands (more on these later) and there was then a detailed briefing held in her garage, which comfortably accommodated all 35 or so riders, but made little sense to me, not knowing what a Mesa was, but was repeatedly warned about the danger of wrong turns and riding up one.
Then we were off and soon strung out along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) heading north to the first info control, before turning west to the coast and rejoining the PCH again for a 80km ride south. By this time I had joined a group of around 10 riders and, comfortable as it seemed, I decided to stop for a second breakfast* (ACH Rule #2 prevents me from photographing or talking about food) as I was unsure of the facilities on the road. After that I was back to being on my own as usual, which doesn’t bother me.
The route consisted of a mixture of pan-flat farmland and fairly gentle climbs on minor roads, though at one point PCH turned into a freeway, which was a bit of a shock as I had to ride around 15km along the hard shoulder – apparently this is allowable in the US if there is no other road between two places. After that there was a secret control, run by Vickie, as route variations between controls are not allowed as they are in the UK.
The next control was in Los Alamos (not the nuclear test site!), which like a UK X-rated event required receipts, and in Subway I bumped into another rider, Chris Fraser. We rode out together onto the Drum Canyon climb, which I had received several warnings about – I dutifully used the supplied elastic bands to secure my water bottles, but in fact the surface wasn’t much worse than most lanes in England. I climbed away from Chris and then passed another rider, Pete, towards the summit. I regrouped with him on the descent and we then tackled the next stage together to Lompoc into an increasing headwind. Another gas station, receipt, restroom visit and brief sprawl on the concrete before pushing on through vineyards. The next info control was in fact manned by the SAG driver, which gave me a boost, despite being told only Pete and Chris were behind me (in fact there was a third). Pete arrived just as I was leaving and I carried on alone onto Nipomo for a quick receipted raid on a supermarket.
Night had now fallen, the ride out of Nipomo along Fox Canyon road was slow, I felt increasingly low until the gradient picked up and I realised I had been climbing slowly for miles. A couple of blinking lights materialised ahead, which lifted my spirits, and I followed them down a fantastic gliding descent to the first official manned control. There I met the father and daughter team, Terry and Amber, and we agreed to ride the last stage together, through Santa Maria for another gas station visitation, before the final run into the finish for a 23:23 finish. A quick bite to eat* that had been laid on by Vickie and then I was back to the hostel for another night – job done!
It’s definitely an experience I want to repeat, the familiarity of riding an audax events with controls, time limits and good company balanced against the different scenery and approach in organising. Now I just have to wait and see if my brevet ever turns up in the post so I will be part of the way to an International Super Randonneur award, and I keep scanning that ACP calendar every time a work trip comes up.